In Memoriam – Bronwen, Lady Astor

The Guardian online edition has just published the obituary of Bronwen Astor, the third wife of Bill Astor aka William Waldorf, 3rd Viscount Astor – Bronwen died at the age of 87 on Dec 28.

Bronwen married Bill Astor in 1960 and only three years later found herself at the centre of the Profumo Affair, the scandal which brought down Harold Macmillan in Oct 1963. Bronwen and the Astors considered that they suffered very badly as a result of the Profumo Affair – they complained that their reputations had been unfairly tarnished and that friends had deserted them. In 2001 Peter Stanford wrote a biography of Bronwen with which she readily co-operated by making papers and other information available. Bronwen felt that Stanford’s biography had gone some way to salvaging her reputation and after its publication she felt able to move back to London to live among those who had previously coldshouldered her. There were however two other people who fared rather more badly than Bronwen or the Astors, as we shall see.

Bronwen was born Janet Bronwen Alun Pugh in London, the third daughter of the Welsh circuit judge Sir Alun Pugh.  Although she was raised in Hampstead, Bronwen went to Dr Williams School in Dolgellau, north Wales, as a boarder. After leaving school she trained to be a teacher at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Bronwen didn’t actually want to teach and she took up modelling work instead. In 1954 she worked for a while as a BBC TV presenter and then went to Paris where she became a high profile catwalk model. Bronwen retired from the catwalk after she married Bill Astor and dedicated herself to running Cliveden, Astor’s country seat. Bill Astor was Tory MP for Fulham East, 1935-45. He served as a naval intelligence officer during WWII and made many contacts. In 1951 Astor was elected as the Tory MP for High Wycombe. He relinquished his seat when he inherited his father’s title ten months later.

Cliveden was the centre of a group of aristos known as the Cliveden set – which included Baroness Jean Trumpington – who enjoyed weekend gatherings there. Trumpers’s friend Sally Norton was Bill Astor’s first wife. Cliveden was to become notorious as a result of a party that was held there on the weekend of 8-9 July 1961. It was at this party that one of the guests, 19 year old Christine Keeler, met another guest, John aka Jack Profumo, who was the Minister for War in Harold Macmillan’s Cabinet. Jack Profumo was very keen on Christine and they started an affair.

Christine was not one of the aristocratic friends of Bill Astor. She had experienced a very difficult life and whilst in her mid-teens had become involved with various unpleasant people, including a violent pimp and a gangster associated with London’s jazz scene, Johnny Edgecombe. Christine was also friendly with someone who treated her rather better than Edgecombe did, a society osteopath and portrait artist, Stephen Ward. Ward had met Christine in 1959 when she was 17 and working as a dancer in Soho – her bit of the dancing consisted of her standing on the stage topless but motionless whilst the other dancers did the dancing. Christine moved in with Stephen Ward – his house was in Wimpole Mews – and she also spent time with him at Spring Cottage, a house that Ward rented on the Cliveden estate. Ward was a good friend of Bill Astor and Ward and his guests at Spring Cottage would attend the bashes that Astor was holding at the main house. Another person shared Ward’s house with Christine and him – Christine’s friend Mandy Rice-Davies.

Stephen Ward was the son of an English vicar, who someone responsible for adding information to his wiki entry tells us was a ‘lazy and regular underachiever’ at school. Such was Ward’s underachieving that he had no other options for a career but osteopathy – which the lazy underachiever was very good at. The lazy underachiever qualified as an osteopath in the US and then in 1944 was posted to India with the Army, where he was allowed to continue with his osteopathy – Mahatma Ghandi was one of his patients. Whilst in India Ward had a ‘nervous collapse’ and was hospitalised. He returned to England in 1945 and was discharged from the Army on the grounds of disability.

Ward then worked at the Osteopathic Association Clinic at Dorset Square in London, where one of his patients was Duncan Sandys, Churchill’s son-in-law, who was sufficiently impressed by the lazy underachiever to recommend him to Churchill. So many other people were wowed by the lazy underachiever that word spread among the members of High Society and Ward opened his own clinic in Cavendish Square, off Harley Street. Ward had become friendly with socialite Arthur Ferrier who invited Ward to his parties. At these gatherings Ward met other lazy underachievers, including Prince Philip of Greece, who at that point was a junior officer in the Navy and hadn’t yet married into the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family of German origin which allowed him to hurl racist insults at Johnny Foreigner with impunity. One of Ward’s patients was Bill Astor. They became good friends and in 1956 Astor let Spring Cottage to Ward at a nominal rent.

History tells us that Ward introduced the ‘shy Bill Astor’ into Ward’s world of girls and parties . Bill Astor was so shy that he’d managed to get married a couple of times and procreate by the time that he married Bronwen in 1960. I don’t think that the parties at Cliveden were solely Ward’s idea either.

Ward’s laziness and underachieving also led to him studying at the Slade and subsequently establishing a reputation as a painter of portraits. In 1960 he was commissioned by the Illustrated London News to paint a series of portraits including those of Prince Philip and Princess Margaret. Ward wanted to visit the Soviet Union to paint the Soviet leaders, so the editor of the Daily Telegraph Sir Colin Coote arranged for Ward to be introduced to Yevgeny Ivanov, a Russian naval attache at the Soviet Embassy. Ward became good friends with Ivanov – who was known to the British security services as a KGB agent. Ward was used by the Foreign Office in unofficial diplomacy – as a backchannel through Ivanov to the Soviet Union – at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. Christine Keeler began a relationship with Iavanov.

The security services wanted Ivanov to defect and had planned to use Christine as a honey trap. However that plan was complicated after she met Profumo and begun an affair with him as well – Ward had reported to MI5 that they had met at the party. Christine and Profumo definitely had an affair but no-one is quite sure how long for, as so many people told so many lies. It is known that they regularly met at Ward’s house in Wimpole Mews. Ward had joked to Christine about her participating in pillow talk with Profumo regarding the possibility of West Germany being provided with nuclear warheads, but MI5 didn’t take this seriously. However the story regarding the possibility of a security breach got out.

On 9 Aug 1961 Profumo was warned of the dangers of his friendships with Ward’s group by Cabinet Secretary Sir Norman Brook, who had been told by Sir Roger Hollis DG of MI5 that MI5 were unsure of Ward’s dependability.

Although there were plenty of rumours circulating about Christine’s relationship with Profumo, nothing emerged in the press until Johnny Edgecombe got particularly nasty. Christine – who was described as Edgecombe’s ‘lover’ but seems to have fallen more into the category of a call-girl/battered girlfriend of his – was assaulted by a male acquaintance of both of them. Edgecombe slashed him with a knife causing considerable injury, was arrested and subsequently appeared at the Old Bailey in March 1963. Christine was called as a witness but was so frightened of Edgecombe that she failed to materialise in Court. She had good reason to be frightened – three months previously Edgeware had gone looking for her and had fired a few shots into Ward’s door for good measure.

After Christine’s non-appearance at the Old Bailey, there was a hoo hah about the ‘missing witness’ and Christine went public on what had been going on re Profumo and her and tried to sell her story to the press. No-one dared publish anything but the level of rumour was such that on 21 March after Edgecombe’s trial Private Eye published a thinly disguised account replacing the names of the people involved with ‘Dr Spook’, ‘Miss Gaye Funloving’, ‘Mr James Montesi’ and ‘Vladimir Bolokhov’.

On 22 March 1963 Profumo made a statement to the House denying any ‘impropriety’ with Christine. Stephen Ward initially supported Profumo’s story but was so aggressively targeted by the police and threatened with arrest for living off immoral earnings on the grounds that Christine and Mandy were prostitutes that he revealed all to Profumo’s political masters and to the press. Profumo fessed up and resigned from Parliament. The police had interviewed more than 100 people as part of their investigation into Ward and Mandy Rice-Davies was arrested for a driving licence offence and remanded in Holloway until she agreed to testify against him.  Two days after Profumo resigned, among growing rumours of many more sex scandals in high places including allegations that senior civil servants were involved in unacceptable sexual practices and that Prince Philip was somehow linked to the Profumo Affair, Ward was arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings and procuring.

Ward’s trial in July 1963 caused a sensation. The famous bit was Mandy Rice-Davies’s response after being told that Bill Astor had denied having sex with her – she replied ‘well he would wouldn’t he’. Mandy was sixteen when she lived it up and slept with the Cliveden set. There was a paucity of evidence against Ward. Mandy and Christine had contributed towards household expenses whilst they had lived with him and had repaid money that he’d lent them. Furthermore Ward had a very good income from his osteopathy and painting. Most charges against him were dismissed, but Ward was convicted on two counts of living off immoral earnings.

Ward was made a complete scapegoat because a bunch of aristos and politicians who were mates with the Royal Family had been caught out. His character was completely trashed, first at the committal proceedings on 28 June 1963 at Marylebone Magistrates Court and then again at his Old Bailey trial. None of the rich very well-connected people who had been close friends with Ward for years spoke up for him and MI5 didn’t reveal that they had been using him. Towards the end of the trial there was evidence available from another case at the Court of Appeal that Christine had perjured herself in that case and therefore wasn’t a sound witness – she was the chief prosecution witness at Ward’s trial. The presiding judge at Ward’s trial Sir Archie Marshall – who had been active in the Liberal Party since he had been at Cambridge and had previously stood for election as a Liberal candidate on a number of occasions – did not make this evidence known to the jury. The prosecution barrister was Mervyn Griffith-Jones, who had become notorious three years previously at the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial, when he had questioned whether someone would want their ‘wife or servants’ to read the book. Griffith-Jones ripped Ward apart and stated in Court that Ward represented the ‘very depths of lechery and depravity’.

On 30 July Archie Marshall began his summing up. He made such an attack on Ward that Ward overdosed on barbiturates and was taken to hospital where he died three days later. His memorial service was held in the chapel at St Stephen’s Hospital, so I presume that is where he died.

Ward was the man who was put on trial but the police had investigated Bill Astor as well and had threatened to charge him with brothel keeping, after they discovered that he had written a cheque to pay the rent on a flat of Christine’s and Mandy’s.

Another judge knew a great deal about what did or didn’t go on at Cliveden but he didn’t appear at the Old Bailey – Sir Alun Pugh, Bill Astor’s father-in-law. Jeremy Lewis’s book ‘David Astor’ describes how before Ward’s trial Alun Pugh met with Bill Astor, David Astor, David and Bill’s brother Jakie and Bill Astor’s lawyer to discuss whether Bill was going to give evidence. Sir Aun remembered that ‘David was breathing fire and talked about the fight for the honour of the Astor family’ and was ‘begging Bill to go into the witness box’. Bill was advised against this by his ‘awful lawyer’.

The Astor family owned the Observer and David was the editor. David went to Eton and then Balliol, whereas both Bill and Jakie went to Eton and then New College, Oxford. Jakie was the Tory MP for Plymouth Sutton, 1951-59. Nancy Astor, the mother of Bill, David and Jakie, had been the Tory MP for Plymouth Sutton, 1919-45. Nancy had a son from her first marriage, Bobby Shaw, who was quite troubled. He had problems with alcohol and in 1931 he was arrested for homosexual offences. Many years later, after his mother’s death, Bobby killed himself. Nancy Astor’s political views were a bit odd. She was an appeaser who met Nazi officials on a number of occasions and also had a problem with Jewish people and Catholics – such that she dictated that they should not be employed by the Observer, a policy which was still being followed in the 1960s. She took an interest in juvenile justice and was involved in the passing of legislation regarding sex offences against young people.

David Astor was viewed as a socially liberal compassionate man supportive of a number of radical causes. When he was young he had a breakdown and was analysed by Anna Freud. David was very friendly with George Orwell, who was employed by the Observer. David and George Orwell are buried next to each other – David purchased the two burial plots for that purpose. David Astor was one of the founders of Amnesty International in 1961 and was also very supportive of the ANC from the mid-60s. Nelson Mandela publicly paid tribute to David Astor for his support.

However there are a few interesting things tucked away regarding David in Jeremy Lewis’s book. Although the Observer condemned Profumo for lying to the House, David was obviously able to wield considerable control over what it published about the Profumo Affair. Jeremy Lewis’s biography of David Astor records how at the time of Stephen Ward’s trial David was on holiday on Jura and wrote to Bill Astor telling him that he wished that he could control what the Observer was going to say about the trial. Yet David will have known the date of the trial weeks in advance – he didn’t HAVE to go on holiday to Jura at that time. David had a friend and an advisor who was notoriously effective at assisting people in high places who were in trouble – Lord Arnold Goodman. Goodman was Harold Wilson’s solicitor and also helped Jeremy Thorpe out when he was charged with conspiring to murder Norman Scott (see post ‘My How Things Haven’t Changed’). David Astor is one of the many people who maintained that Ward was ‘the victim of an historic injustice’. Astor was on record as saying that the build up of hostility towards Ward before the trial was a ‘nightmare’ and that he regrets that he didn’t say anything about it. Ah well he just had to go on that holiday to Jura when he had absolutely no influence at all over what the paper that his family owned and which he edited was going to publish about the very hot water in which his older brother had landed.

George Orwell wasn’t the only employee of the Observer who’s name became part of British history. The Observer also employed Kim Philby. After Burgess and Maclean defected, Kim Philby was under suspicion of being the Third Man and was grilled by MI5. He resigned from the service. Malcolm Muggeridge, Philby’s war time colleague from MI6, suggested that Philby should try and bag a job on the Observer. Philby wrote to David Astor in Feb 1952 and made a good impression on Astor and Philip Toynbee. Philby subsequently filed a number of reports for the Observer. Two years later in 1955 Philby was officially cleared in the House of the accusation that he was the Third Man. MI6 re-employed him and posted him to Beirut, under the cover of working for the Observer as their middle east correspondent. In 1963 Philby defected to Russia. Ted Heath later told the House that Philby had been the Third Man and had been working for the Soviets. Astor later denied knowing that Philby was working for MI6, although the security services maintain that Astor did know.

The Observer came in for a lot of flak for employing Kim Philby.

John Pringle maintained that thanks to David Astor, ‘the Observer behaved with generosity and restraint’, which saved the reputation of Cliveden. Bronwen stated that she was ‘very touched’ by a letter that she’d received from David. David also wrote to Profumo, acknowledging that Profumo blamed Bill Astor for his troubles and that he found it ‘difficult to entirely forgive Bill’, but urged him to visit Bill who was at the time in the Middlesex Hospital.

The Observer was ailing in the 1960s. The Sunday Times’s circulation exceeded that of the Observer – the Sunday Times even managed to employ Lord Snowdon as their photographer – and the launch of the Sunday Telegraph in 1961 provided further competition for the Observer. David Astor, Tristan Jones the MD of the Observer and the Trustees were working flat out to keep the newspaper afloat. Tristan Jones was the son of Tom Jones, the President of Aberystwyth University, 1944-54. Scores of the lawyers and judges who concealed the criminality associated with the Top Doctors and the paedophile gang in north Wales trained at Aberystwyth. Tristan Jones’s sister was Baroness Eirene White, who for many years was the Labour MP for Flintshire, who did a great deal to conceal the criminality as well (see post ‘A Bit More Paleontology’).

After Stephen Ward’s trial the Master of the Rolls Lord Denning was appointed by the Gov’t to investigate all the rumours that emanated from the Profumo Affair. Denning’s Report was published in Sept 1963. He maintained that there had been no security leaks, no evidence to link members of the Gov’t with the associated scandals and blamed the ‘utterly immoral Ward’ for absolutely everything. After Macmillan resigned ‘for health reasons’, his successor Lord Home resigned his peerage and became Sir Alec Douglas Home. In Oct 1964 Labour won the General Election and Harold Wilson became Prime Minister.

It was John Hunt who in his capacity as Cabinet Secretary to Harold Wilson’s Gov’t advised Wilson to appoint Sir Kenneth Stowe as the Principal Private Secretary to the PM. John Hunt – who served as Cabinet Secretary, 1973-79 ie. to the Gov’ts of Heath, Wilson, Callaghan and Thatcher – had been Sir Norman Brook’s Private Secretary, 1956-58 – the Norman Brook who had warned Profumo about Stephen Ward’s crowd. John Hunt and Kenneth Stowe became incredibly powerful people and Stowe spent many enjoyable years as the Principal Private Secretary to Wilson and Callaghan and then as the mandarin who concealed all the crap in the NHS, including the activities of the lobotomist Gwynne Williams, Dr Dafydd Alun Jones and the paedophile ring (see post ‘Additional Security Measures’) In 1989 Sir Kenneth Stowe published a book called ‘On Caring for the National Health’. Stowe certainly cared for the health of society’s elites and for the Top Doctors who served them but unfortunately not for patients who were the targets of the Top Doctors who were involved in serious crime. Gwynne the lobotomist and facilitator of the paedophile ring became Medical Superintendent of the North Wales Hospital Denbigh in 1963. Dafydd followed hot on his heels. Dafydd and Gwynne also were involved in the sexual exploitation of young attractive female patients who like Christine Keeler had come from difficult backgrounds and had no-one to look out for them. Christine Keeler had been in the hands of the welfare agencies herself as a teenager.

The account written of the Profumo Affair by Anthony Summers and Stephen Dorril maintains that a former MI6 operative admitted that Stephen Ward had been murdered by an MI6 agent, because of the potential for him to cause embarrassment to the Gov’t and the Royal Family. Jean Trumpington mentions in her biography ‘Coming Up Trumps’ that when HM the Queen visited Cliveden, the less reputable guests would be hidden (see post ’95 Glorious Years!’). The alleged method of killing Steven Ward was to encourage him to take increasing doses of barbiturates until a fatal dose had been ingested. Which would be a very easy thing to achieve if you were, for example, a Top Doctor treating a very distressed Stephen Ward who was being fitted up in Court. In fact that is exactly what very nearly happened to me at the hands of the mental health services in north Wales (see post ‘An Attempt To Frame Me – Witnessed’).

In 1982 Ward’s MI5 role whilst he was friendly with Ivanov was confirmed by the Sunday Times, who located his former contact.

Christine Keeler died recently and maintained to the end that the truth about the Profumo Affair had never ever been revealed. Although in one of her accounts Keeler stated that Ward was a spy she always maintained that he was a gentleman and that their relationship had never been sexual . Mandy Rice-Davies weathered the Profumo Affair rather better than Christine did and became a successful businesswoman. Christine went to prison for perjury – but not at Stephen Ward’s trial – and spent most of the rest of her life being called a slapper.

Jack Profumo rehabilitated himself completely through Good Works with the disadvantaged and dispossessed at Toynbee Hall in the East End. Toynbee Hall has featured previously on this blog. Some of those involved with Toynbee Hall have concealed the sexual abuse and exploitation of disadvantaged young people.

Bronwen was frozen out of high society post-Profumo and was miffed to be accused of being another one of Ward’s girls who was trained to bag a rich husband. Bronwen maintained that she only met Ward after her marriage to Bill Astor and took an ‘instant dislike’ to him. As of course did everyone else once the scandal became public – after they’d been mates with him for years, invited him to their knees-ups, had their portraits painted and had their muscles and bones manipulated by him. And of course asked him to supply them with girls for their parties.

In 1966 Bill Astor died in the Bahamas.

Bronwen moved from Cliveden and founded an ecumenical religious community at Tuesley Manor in Godalming in Surrey. The community collapsed in 1974 – in 1986 Bronwen qualified as a psychotherapist and ran a practice for over 20 years. She was regarded as something of an authority on the link between religious experiences and the mind and Chaired the Alester Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre at Oxford – which is now located at Trinity St David’s University in Wales.

Those who were involved with Cliveden are nearly all dead now. So perhaps Trumpers would like to let us know exactly who did what because I don’t suppose that the Queen and Prince Philip are going to be giving any interviews about their time at parties with the Cliveden set.

 

Author: Sally Baker

I am a writer and a sociologist, originally from Somerset, but I’ve been based in Wales for most of my life. I had my first encounter with a mental health professional in 1984 at the age of 21. My GP described this man to my then partner – who also became a sociologist – as someone who had experienced ‘considerable success’. My meeting with this psychiatrist was a disaster and we attempted to complain about his insensitivity and highly inappropriate behaviour. That was the first time we were threatened and pressurised to withdraw a complaint against a mental health professional. This man is long dead – he was a retired psychiatrist from the North Wales Hospital Denbigh, T. Gwynne Williams, who was working shifts in the student health centre at University College of North Wales (now Bangor University). We discovered years later that this ‘successful man’ was notorious – he had been an enthusiastic lobotomist…

4 thoughts on “In Memoriam – Bronwen, Lady Astor”

  1. We now know that Leonard Cheshire Homes was subject of Special Branch liaison reporting to MI5 in effect making the charity, founded by Lord Denning, an unlawful police no go area.

    Denning was probably so busy in awe of his own judicial prowess he didn’t know his arse from his elbow.

    1. Gosh, didn’t realise that Lord Denning founded Leonard Cheshire. Powerful people at the top of charities certainly make them bomb proof. Just look what MIND were getting away with – Lady Juliet and William Bingley concealed the paedophile gang in north Wales and Dafydd’s criminality for years. MIND concealed exactly the same sort of abuse and misconduct across the UK. Of course Lady Juliet’s dad was a Harley Street/ Barts surgeon and she had been a social worker at Barts, so she was well plugged into the Top Doctors network, but your mention of MI5 had caused me to realise what I should have realised before. Lady Juliet’s husband/William’s dad Admiral Sir Alec Bingley was commander of the NATO fleet – he’ll have been a member of the security services himself. The Bingley’s were a society family, Lady Juliet took up her charitable work with MIND when Sir Alec died in 1972, but she’ll have been friends with people in the security services for years. She knew a lot of people in Gov’t as well and she was a personal friend of the Prime Minister of Malta, those are the sort of circles in which she did her hobnobbing.

      1. Can’t remember if I’ve already mentioned this elsewhere, but Sir Alec running the Navy could well have meant that he personally knew the lobotomist Gwynne Williams who was a naval surgeon himself as well as Jim Callaghan with his Navy connections.

        Talking of charities, Ed Miliband’s Uncle Harry aka Prof Harry Keen from Guys was head of Diabetes UK for years. Am just in the middle of a post which will include info about Uncle Harry at the moment – hadn’t considered Harry’s connections re Diabetes UK though, have been busy concentrating on Uncle Harry’s personal network. Ed n David certainly had a little helper in the shape of Uncle Harry…

        1. Denning had been pupil of Leonard Cheshire’s father. On the Sue Ryder charity side of the gang it was founded by Harry Sporborg and Airey Neave the 1944 founders of GLADIO from SOE and MI9 connections.

          Head of Sue Ryder support group was Sir Eric Berthoud BP MI6. Berthoud had been with Richard Rapier Stokes MP Ipswich to overthrow Mossadeq with CIA. Rapier Stokes was the extremist catholic anti semite Hitler admirer who brought SS Galician Divn to settle in East Anglia postwar.

          I laugh every time I read Denning quoted as authority for chief constable operational independence. Denning was the beneficiary of MI5 and Special Branch liaison to make an unlawful police no go area of his charity. So his idea that there is no unfettered discretion or power allowed under law of the realm ??? Ha ha ha the old know nowt curmudgeon.

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